Despite past mistakes, Liz Furl is determined to have healthy, respect-based relationships with the men in her life.
I have a not-so-secret: I’m terrified of men.
Not all men, but most. I’m afraid of men who look and holler at me on the street. I’m afraid of men who walk behind me a little too close. I’m afraid of men who smile at me, who are kind to me without clear motivation. And I’m most afraid of men who may have feelings for me, men who I’ve had feelings for in the past, men I might pursue relationships with if I weren’t happily married.
There are distinct and specific reasons for each fear. I’m afraid of cat-callers and men walking behind me on the street because I’ve been stalked by a man in his car on the way back to mine. Nothing could dissuade him—not saying “no,” or “go away,” or screaming for help. I had to walk into a construction site in order to get away.
And I’m afraid of men’s smiles and kindnesses, afraid of others’ feelings and my own, because I used be a cheater.
In my twenty-third year, I went through a crisis. I broke up with my second serious boyfriend because he treated me badly, but was so used to being treated badly that I continued to sleep with him, off and on over the course of that year.
I dated other men who would be considered questionable decisions, including a hockey-bro who called me a crazy bitch because I wouldn’t give him a blow job the first time we hung out.
I also started sleeping with my internship supervisor; however, considering that he’s now my husband, I can’t that that decision was all that bad.
But I did screw up again and again. I made a practice of cheating on these three men: my ex, the hockey-bro, and my now-husband. Whenever I felt that I wasn’t getting what I wanted or needed from my ex or the hockey-bro, I would swap sides and cheat. When I felt certain that my ex would never properly care about me, I began an affair with my internship supervisor while he was still living with his girlfriend of five years. And when I couldn’t convince myself that I deserved the love and kindness that my now-husband bestowed lavishly upon me, I cheated on him with the one person I thought I deserved, especially after becoming a short-term serial cheater: my ex.
The point of my disclosure here is not to say that I’m afraid of kind men, handsome men, men who may have feelings for me, and men who are (or used to be) my type because I don’t trust them. I’m afraid because I don’t trust myself.
But I’m starting to.
This past week, I friend requested two of my ex-boyfriends (neither of whom are the infamous ex) on Facebook. Both of them were good friends of mine once. Both of them were and are good men. They accepted, and, since then, I’ve had conversations with them both, about work, mental illness, and writing, among other things.
It’s something I needed desperately, to know that, despite my nervousness and self-doubt, there are still good men in the world, that I can be their friend without danger of relapsing into infidelity.
My husband is a good man; I’m biased to say so, but he’s the best man. The fact that there are other good men in the world can’t change the bond of love we have together.
Similarly, the fact that there are bad men in the world does not negate the goodness of other men, nor does it negate the fact that their influence on my life can be positive.
And the fact that I was once a less-than-good woman, a woman who made less-than-good choices, does not mean I’m destined to forever be that lost twenty-three-year-old girl. I have grown, changed, learned to trust love, and, more importantly, how to care for and trust myself. I can invite the good men into my life and be happy about their place there. I can believe that while some men are toxic, others are beautiful and kind and good. Not just in and of themselves, but to those whose lives they touch, including mine.
So I raise my clichéd cup of writer’s coffee to my husband and to my exes, A. and L., who have taught me so much about what it means to be a good man.